Ottawa

Chamber of Commerce worries small businesses may not be ready for COVID-19

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce wants businesses, especially small ones, to start preparing for a potential COVID-19 pandemic, but not to panic.

Smaller operations so focused on day-to-day activities that most lack plans, CEO says

Perrin Beatty, chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, is urging businesses to develop contingency plans should the COVID-19 virus spread widely in Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce wants businesses to start preparing for a potential COVID-19 pandemic, but not to panic.

The advocacy group has published a guide to help companies, especially smaller ones, get ready for the possible spread of the respiratory illness through Canada.

"After SARS [in 2003] big businesses, governments [and] other institutions all put in place plans to prepare for a pandemic or other problems," said Perrin Beatty, chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, on Monday.

"[However] small business are so focused on day-to-day activities that most of them don't have business continuity plans, so we want to help them with that."

The chamber's guide recommends businesses consider steps such as taking out a line of credit or enabling telecommuting should COVID-19 prevent employees from coming to work. 

It also gives advice on what to do if supply chains or staffing is significantly disrupted.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 89,000 people worldwide have contracted the respiratory illness, including 27 confirmed or presumptive cases in Canada in Ontario, B.C. and one in Quebec.

On Monday, Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said it's only a matter of time before someone in the city tests positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Vera Etches, with Ottawa Public Health, says even though the coronavirus is spreading, most people will be able to get through the infection without serious consequence. 0:58

Alberta Health Services is asking travellers returning from Iran within the past two weeks to isolate themselves in their home for 14 days while monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19, as it has been doing for visitors from China's Hubei province.

Saint John is also watching anxiety in the cruise ship industry with its first ship arriving in late April.

"There's no need to panic," said Beatty. "But there's a need to prepare."

Supply shortage from Asia

Ottawa's Lee Valley Tools, with 21 locations across the country, has already begun to feel the effects of COVID-19 in its stores.

Chief executive Robin Lee said the company recently ran out of woodworking dust masks. Much of the store's supply comes from Asia, he said, and Lee Valley has been unable to restock.

"They're absolutely sold out," he said. "Everybody's out."

N95 medical masks are designed to filter out smaller airborne particles. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Woodworking dust masks are N95 rated, the standard rating for masks used to help prevent the spread of the flu.

The company, which has roughly 1,000 employees, has also cancelled plans to attend any international trade shows, fearing it would mean putting attendees in harm's way.

At the company's weekly executive meeting on Wednesday, Lee said he plans to discuss additional ways to prepare for the virus.

He is floating the idea of delivering more products locally or even loading vehicles so customers don't have to enter a store.

"I've already tried to find things like hand sanitizer in the stores and of course, everybody's sold out across the country," Lee said.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada's Claudine Richard

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